Early Ecological Impulses: An Interview with Rudolf Sikora
In May 2013, I met with Rudolf Sikora in his studio and home in Bratislava, Slovakia.(Also taking part in the conversation was the Slovak artist Matej Vakula who translated and assisted with video documentation.) Our conversation, one of many we have had since we first worked together on my project “Voices From the Center” in 2009, centered on his work from the early 1970s that addressed ecological themes. Sikora was one of a handful of Czechsolovak artists who were, at this time, exploring the interconnectedness between art, ecology and inner consciousness.(Other Czechoslovak artists that were working on these themes included P. Bartoš, S. Filko, J. Meliš, J. Koller.) Creating art that fell outside of Social Realist style provided Sikora with, what he calls, “unfree freedom.” Sikora was often forbidden to travel and worked from his home, a place where fellow artists gathered to show each other’s work. He was under constant surveillance. Working in photomontage, painting, sculpture and performance, Sikora also organized exhibitions and lectures. In 1970, he co-organized an unofficial, collective one-day exhibition at his studio in Bratislava, titled First Open Studio, that included several artists, among them Alex Mlynárčik and Jana Želibská. This exhibition was followed by group meetings and exhibitions held regulary at his studio-home. His commitment to providing a space to exhibit and talk about the work of other artists can be seen as a part of his lifelong interest in engaging the world around him.
For his project, Out of the City, which also took place in 1970, Sikora used red pigment to create red arrows leading out of Bratislava’s housing blocks into the countryside. He was marking the way out of the urban development as a form of protest against the polluted, city environment. These protests often took the form of manifestos and posters with politcal statements about the lack of respect towards nature. In one group of posters, from 1974, he used an exclamation mark, with an image of the earth standing in for the exclamation mark’s point, to communicate the pernicious presence of humans on the planet. These works, which were influenced by a trip to Japan in 1973 where he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, can be read as warnings to pay attention to the destruction of the environment and the looming environmental crisis, as much as artistic expressions about nature.(For a detailed discussion of Sikora’s environemntal artwork see “The Engaged Art of Rudolf Sikora” by Helena Musilová in Against Myself (Národni galerie v Praze, 2006).)
Sikora’s desire to positively influence the world was also expressed in poltical action. In the late 1980s, together with environmentalists and other activists, he co-founded Public Against Violence, a group that played a significant role in the 1989 fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Today in his studios in Prague and Bratislava, Sikora continues to create sculptures, paintings and prints that examine and express his questions and ideas about his place in the universe. Transcending ideologies, boundaries and time, his work is universal, asking us to consider how we relate and connect to our inner and outer world.